Faculty of color voice frustrations with University of Iowa Diversity, Equity, Inclusion document

During a UI Faculty Senate discussion on recommendations for university diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, faculty members of color said that they felt “out of touch.”


Hayden Froehlich

The Old Capitol building is seen on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.

Sabine Martin and Eleanor Hildebrandt

Two professors of color voiced their frustration over the University of Iowa’s response to diversity, equity, and inclusion, after the Faculty Senate moved to approve two measures related to DEI at their meeting on Tuesday.

One of the professors called the university’s response to diversity an “unmitigated disaster.”

The measures are two of 14 proposed recommendations from the Faculty Senate’s Governmental Regulations Task Force to improve the university’s commitment to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into the UI community. The two measures – establishing Election Day as an official UI holiday and incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion-themed teaching week each fall – were uncontroversial will be voted on in the coming week. The rest of the recommendations will be discussed in later meetings.

The Faculty Senate also discussed another set of recommendations on how to improve the next search for the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the committee ended the search on Oct. 15 in the wake of UI President Bruce Harreld announcing his retirement in early October.

Those recommendations were outlined in a letter sent to campus constituencies on Oct. 22 drafted by members of the disbanded committee, who expressed their disappointment at the failure of the search committee and examined DEI at the university.

After the DEI update, some faculty of color at the meeting expressed their frustration that their opinions and perspectives were not included in creating the 14 recommendations, and said the university’s lack of outreach to faculty of color speaks to wider issues of exclusion at the UI.

“I guess the thing that kind of rubbed me the wrong way is that I am one of the few Black faculty here, and I was never engaged in this process,” Associate Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and Faculty Senate member Michael Wright said at the Faculty Senate meeting. “I feel like I read the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion document, and it feels like you’re going to try to do an administrative way of delivering it. It just seems out of touch.”

RELATED: Disbanded University of Iowa search committee recommends top DEI position report to the president

Wright said no one has ever reached out to him or people of color within the university to ask for their perspective on recommendations for the UI related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

UI Assistant Professor of Sociology and African American studies Jessica Paige, who also serves on the Faculty Senate, agreed with Wright. Paige told The Daily Iowan that when it comes to diversity at the UI, it feels like “we are on a plane with no one flying it” because of the UI’s low diversity numbers.

The UI Office of the Registrar reported that minority enrollment encompasses 18.7 percent of UI students in 2020.

In 2018, UI Undergraduate Admissions recorded that 23 percent of the UI’s tenured and tenure-track faculty members are minorities, while “13.4 percent of the university’s total workforce, including faculty, administrators, maintenance staff, and all professional employees, are minorities,” the admissions website said.

“I think the university really has underestimated how bad their problems are with faculty of color. And I’m actually leaving at the end of the year, so I feel like I speak up even more,” Paige said at the Faculty Senate meeting. “Our reputation with people of color around the country has really gone down. With problems of the [vice president of] diversity, equity, and inclusion leaving…it’s just really shocking and I think it will hurt recruitment and retention efforts.”

Wright said Black and Brown faculty should have been consulted when drafting the recommendations because they have to live the reality of racism every day. He told The DI that he wants to think that the DEI committees are sincerely addressing DEI across the campus.

“I mean, this place is about business as usual, right. You hire the people that you interact with,” Wright said at the meeting. “I don’t interact with any people in a position of power, so how are they going to hire other people that look like me? Welcome us to the table and let us have our opinion and discussion on this.”

Paige said the university’s response to diversity is an “unmitigated disaster” at the meeting.

“I wouldn’t advise other faculty of color to come here at this point because of this rollover in administration and the lack of interest,” Paige said at the meeting. “I’m not sure how they think this is going to be solved, but it’s really embarrassing and we’re not on par with our peer institutions at all.”

When Faculty Senate President Joseph Yockey opened the floor for members to suggest what should be focused on in the spring semester, several said they believe it is important to focus on what Wright and Paige said, and that it was difficult to listen to the rest of the meeting’s agenda after the diversity, equity, and inclusion committee’s update was presented.

Yockey said the conversation concerning the recommendations will continue into the spring semester and he will make it a priority on the agenda for future meetings.

“The recommendations I’ve seen are really great for majority members in the UI community,” Paige told The DI. “They are great ways to perhaps make people more aware of inequality, to keep people thinking about racial injustice. But there are those of us that are on the other side of it, people who are from underrepresented groups.”

The next Faculty Senate meeting will take place on Feb. 9, 2021.